An American Show

[ Following is a guest post by Hannah Green. CM readers may remember her JLF diary from earlier this year. Green completed her B.A. in Asian and Middle Eastern History and South Asian Languages and Civilizations at Northwestern University in 2012. Since then, she has spent her time between the United States and India, writing and learning Urdu. Her work has also appeared in OPEN Magazine and Asia Times Online. Follow her on twitter: @write_noise.]

In the early 1980s, an idealistic young American and a group of Mujahideen trekked for thirty-six hours through the Hindu Kush Mountains, from Pakistan to Afghanistan, toward a battle. The journey would have been much shorter if the American had not been there. He was a burden to them, although he convinced himself he was there to help. His broad goal was to “be of service” to the Afghans, and the best way he could think of was to report their story, take their pictures, and convince the Americans back home to send more money and guns for the fight against the Soviets. (This would fail.) As he stumbled and fell through rocky rivers and cold mountain peaks, the Mujahideen helped him as much as they could. They carried his pack and his heaviest camera. They found fruit and picked it for him to eat, even as they themselves maintained the Ramazan fast. When the American could go on no longer, they carried him. To add to our collection of images of the region, it is good for us just to picture it. Mujahideen wearing sandals, feet bleeding, carry a sickly American in Italian hiking boots over dusty hills in the dark.

1992.coverThe American was William T. Vollman and he recounts this trek in his memoire, An Afghanistan Picture Show. The memoire was first printed in 1992, by Farrar Straus & Giroux. This July, Melville House released a new edition of An Afghanistan Picture Show, after it had been out of print for years.

Reading this book feels like taking a journey with an eternally hapless guide. You see different sights, experience all kinds of rough and unfamiliar terrain, but never are able to hold your footing long enough to see what’s really going on or to form an opinion. That’s what Vollmann wants. His time in Afghanistan and Pakistan taught him a lesson about his own limitations, and those of his government. ”It continues to astonish me how easy it is to harm people and how difficult it is to help him,” he writes in his introduction to the 2013 edition.

In order to distance himself from the youth who foolishly believed he could be of service to the Afghans, Vollmann refers to his 23-year-old self as “the Young Man” throughout his narration.  He recreates the sense of confusion and helplessness the Young Man experienced in Afghanistan, Vollmann jumbling vignettes about his failures and humiliation, descriptions of his weakness and illness, his distaste for the food, unsettling philosophical questions, various jabs that Afghani and Pakistani military leaders directed toward him, interviews of waiters, refugees, politicians and government employees, facts about Afghanistan, and anecdotes about his dreams and his past.

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Looking at Mughal(s)

Lately I have been thinking about narrativizing visual language of Mughal art. Which is a weird way of saying I want to talk about Mughal art telling stories. Which is even more of a weird way of saying I am beginning to see a future article in which I, a historian of text, looks.

Looking seems to be the motif of the summer, in retrospect.

In any event, gentle readers, I (@sepoy) tweeted a number of images which are helpfully storified here by CM Intern (to be disclosed soon) and CM Head Archivist (@salmaan_H). The article will most certainly look something like this.

Secular Telugus, Communal Muslims: Politics of ‘Razakar’ Memory in Andhra Pradesh

[Following is a guest post by Dr. A. Suneetha. She is a Senior Fellow at Anveshi Research Centre for Women’s Studies, Hyderabad. She is also the coordinator of Anveshi.]

In the aftermath of Babri Masjid demolition and the rise of the majoritarian Hinduism, the framework of ‘competitive communalization’ has become restrictive in thinking about the situation of Muslims in the country, especially the question of why the burden of ‘communalism’ has been borne disproportionately by Muslims (Tejani, 2008), even to the extent of Muslim articulation of dissent and disaffection being called communal. More importantly, it also does not explain the exclusion of Muslims, their concerns, interests from the domain of secular-nationalism. This has become increasingly so after the Sachar committee report which has made us understand this exclusion as systemic to our secular public domain.

In the just divided state of Andhra Pradesh the process of secularization betrays both these tendencies: One, despite a very strong left lineage, specifically Muslim concerns, history, interests and mobilization have largely remained outside the pale of putative Telugu identity, culture, history and literature. Two, specific articulation of Muslim interest, identity, culture and history, runs the risk of being labeled communal. At certain junctures, it appears as if, unless specifically Muslim articulations are excluded, an issue/concern/ interest/movement cannot become secular. At several moments during the progress of the recent movement for a separate state of Telangana, which opened up questions of Telugu identity, language, culture, apart from resource-distribution through a secular articulation of disaffection about regional backwardness, this character of the secular identity of the Telugus in the state came to the forefront. Even as the promises of the unitary linguistic identity and its historical claims are getting questioned and the need for re-writing of history is getting recognized, issues raised by the local Muslims continue to get tagged onto the same history, memory and identity thereby configuring them as ‘divisive’ and ‘communal’.

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Art, Terror, and Politics: Reading CNN Reading Daisy Rockwell

Over the course of the last year and a bit, CM’s own Daisy Rockwell, a.k.a Lapata, has been featured on CNN on three occasions. The first of these, on Erin’s Burnett’s CNN blog, “OutFront,” featured Daisy’s The Little Book of Terror as the subject of a sensationally titled discussion, “Norman Rockwell’s granddaughter paints terrorists,” and invited CNN readers to weigh in with their thoughts on the matter. Earlier this year in May, OutFront also conducted a detailed interview with Daisy on her translation of Upendranath Ashk’s book, Hats with Doctors. And most recently, CNN interviewed Daisy for her thoughts on the flap concerning the Rolling Stone cover that featured Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokar Tsarnaev.

CNN has been fair in giving Daisy the opportunity to discuss her work and to speak her piece without sacrificing complexity or nuance, more than one can say of most media organizations whose bread and butter, the soundbite, is the natural enemy of both. There are, however, some peculiar and telling aspects of the way in which these conversations and discussions have been framed by CNN. Peculiar because CNN’s framing directly contradicts what I think is one of the crucially important aspects of Daisy’s art and writing. Telling because CNN’s framing of these discussions also reflects something fundamental about the relationship of art (or representation, more broadly) and politics in our times, namely, a conservative turn in the culture about the subjects proper of art, writing, and scholarship.

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